Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Update: An editor at Little, Brown, the publisher of The New American Haggadah, emailed me today to say that, although the first print run “quickly” sold out, the haggadah should (thanks to “two large reprints”) be back on virtual and actual shelves in time for Passover. So fret not.
In recent days, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble’s online arm and other web-based booksellers have experienced shortages of The New American Haggadah, a new version of the text used by Jews at Passover published at the beginning of this month.
The new volume, edited by Jewish American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, was on backorder until March 24 at Amazon.com at the time of this post. BarnesandNoble.com, which had been sold out of the Haggadah a day ago, had it listed as available for shipping “within 24 hours.”
Book Soup, a brick-and-mortar bookseller on Sunset Boulevard, had the haggadah listed as the ninth-best-selling nonfiction hardcover title during the week of March 12-18.
The book’s brisk sales could perhaps have been predicted. Safran Foer seemed to be featured on every media, occasionally accompanied by fellow novelist Nathan Englander, who contributed a new translation of the Hebrew text to the new volume. Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic, managed to get a copy into the hands of President Obama (even if POTUS wouldn’t agree to use it at the White House seder.
But the single-most important reason the New American Haggadah appears to be selling rapidly could be the one identified by comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert earlier this month.
When Foer appeared on The Colbert Report, he told Colbert that customarily, every person around a Seder table will have his or her own copy of the haggadah text.
“Cha-ching,” Colbert said.
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March 20, 2012 | 12:28 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
You know what’s better than a dentist who converts to Judaism just for the jokes?
An Orthodox Jewish plastic surgeon who hires a Jewish punk rock band to write a song promoting nose jobs that trucks in Jewish stereotypes, then hires a Jewish director to direct the music video that features a boy in a kippah, and then hires a PR firm to promote him as the “Controversial Jewish Doctor” behind the song and video for “Jewcan Sam.”
Did you follow all that?
The media savvy plastic surgeon, Dr. Michael Salzhauer, hired The Groggers, a Queens-based punk band, to write a song about nose jobs, then flew them down to Miami to shoot a video for it. The video was directed by Farrell Goldsmith. According to the Huffington Post, the doctor, band and video director are Orthodox Jews.
The good doctor himself appears in the slickly produced video –which stars The Groggers’ lead singer, Doug (L.E.) Staiman, who got a free nose job in addition to the $2,000 fee paid to the band. It has been viewed over 100,000 times in the last month.
That’s according to the doctor’s Massachusetts-based publicists, CWR Partners, who Salzahauer hired to help promote the video.
Nothing like a little controversy to sell a few nose jobs, right?
The post continues after the jump.
But what controversy there is doesn’t focus on anti-Semitism. When Good Morning America reported on this last week, the ADL didn’t return requests for comment.
The only group up in arms about the video (which features more than a few boys in kippahs) seems to be the one representing the nip-and-tuck crowd. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) is investigating whether Dr. Salzhauer violated its code of ethics.
“This is just disturbing that a doctor would play into the frailties of the human condition,” said Dr. Malcolm Roth, president of the ASPS.
Salzhauer could face decertification as a result of the video, ABC News reported.
Salzhauer does have a knack for getting his message out in unusual ways. In 2008, he wrote a children’s book called “My Beautiful Mommy” to help patients explain their transformation to their children.
And while that book made frequent use of the “caterpillar-to-butterfly” metaphor, the “Jewcan Sam” draws more widely, with references to Pinocchio and to wishing he “looked more like tom Cruise and less like Adrien Brody.” The chorus ends with the line, “I will love you till forever / if you get your nose circumcised.”
March 18, 2012 | 1:42 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
For anyone who hasn’t already heard about this weeks’ episode of This American Life (“Retraction”) that retracts and debunks many of the details presented in an earlier TAL episode (“Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”), I won’t rehash too much of it here.
In addition to learning that Mike Daisey, whose monologue performance piece, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, was excerpted to create that first TAL episode, is a big fat liar, what we saw today was a major distinction between journalism and theater.
But it’s not the one that Daisey wants to focus on. For him, the main difference is that journalists aren’t allowed to make stuff up for the sake of a good story, while folks in the theater can.
I think the most interesting difference is to be found in the reactions of those in the journalistic profession to the radio show’s screw-up as compared to the reactions of the theater world to the revelations of Daisey’s fabulism.
For journalists, this week’s TAL episode was a pitch-perfect illustration of what to do when you mess up. In one hour of radio, TAL host Ira Glass owned up to his mistake, gave a platform to one good and resourceful journalist (Rob Schmitz) to show how he sniffed out a fake story, interviewed Daisey—with an amazingly deft touch but without pulling punches—to allow him to try to explain why he lied about having witnessed things he did not witness and why he still thinks what he does is okay in theater but not in journalistic outlets, and then brought a New York Times reporter into the conversation in order to hammer home the point that, despite Daisey’s fabrications, most of what he said about the factories that make Apple products in China is true.
That’s the—nuanced, multifaceted—journalistic response to the revelation of fabrication.
But the theatrical response? Daisey’s response appears to be winning the day—which is effectively a shrug of the shoulders, a statement that says, “This is how we do it here,” and a turning inward, away from the rest of the world. The previously scheduled shows of Daisey’s show at the Public are going on, and he will reportedly be performing at theaters across the country, too.
Indeed, by saying saying that his one mistake was taking his monologue onto This American Life, Daisey is effectively saying that the stage, where he reaches hundreds of people in a night, is the only place that can support his brand of performance. The platform through which he reached tens (if not hundreds) of times more listeners, meanwhile, is somehow too strict in its definition of what is or is not true to support a performer like Daisey.
I’m a fan of This American Life—and a journalist myself—so I’m curious what the theater folks have to say about this. Specifically, I wonder what the effect on other theater professionals is if Daisey’s vision—that theater is allowed to lie in order to tell a greater truth—is allowed to stand.
Doesn’t he risk making himself and all those who employ similar methods—artists like Anna Deveare Smith, David Hare, Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, to name some of the better known ones—less able to participate in a conversation about real events going on in the real world? Did a guy who few had ever heard of before this January just ensure that most won’t ever hear from him again?
March 14, 2012 | 6:08 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Israeli President Shimon Peres won friends and fans on his recent visit to Los Angeles, as this week’s cover story makes pretty clear. Most Angelenos couldn’t stop praising the man.
Below, a collection of a few of the more memorable reactions to and observations about Peres and his recent trip to Los Angeles:
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Peres fulfilling his new role:
“As a politician, you have failures and triumphs. Personally, when he was a political leader, I didn’t agree with many of his political positions. But today, as president of Israel, he has fulfilled that role in an amazing manner.”
Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Valley Beth Shalom, on Peres’s life:
“Peres is a wise man. He’s lived a great deal of our history, and he’s reflected deeply on what history has taught us. His refusal to succumb to pessimism and cynicism is remarkable. That’s the prophet in him – the ability to continue to hope, to envision peace, to demand better of us.”
Israeli Ambassador to the United States and historian Michael Oren, on Peres’s counterpart in American History:
“He’s the [James] Monroe. He is the youngest of the founding fathers, and Monroe was the last of the founding fathers to still be in a position as [the Fifth] American President.”
UCLA professor of Jewish History David N. Myers on Peres’s more recent counterparts in American political history:
“His liberal disposition in politics, his endurance, his know-how—savoir-faire—in matters parliamentary and political, all remind me of Teddy Kennedy.
Myers also likened Peres to the long-serving Cold War-era American diplomat and adviser George Kennan, whom he described as “the ultimate insider, who performed a wide variety of functions in government, who was, in that respect an arch realist – which he [Peres] is. I don’t think he could’ve survived for that long if he wasn’t.”
Sagi Balasha, CEO of the Israeli Leadership Council, on why Israelis are relieved to have Peres as president:
“After what happened with the last president of Israel, Moshe Katzav [who is serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of rape and sexual harassment], the citizens of Israel feel that having Shimon Peres as the President of Israel gives Israel and the citizens a lot of respect. Because he is not just one of the best-known Israeli figures; he is one of the best-known leaders of the world. And to have one of the best-known and most respected leaders of the world as head of the State of Israel is something that every Israeli feels honored to have. People are very proud to have Shimon Peres as president, it doesn’t matter if they are left wing or right wing.”
Gary Dalin, executive director of the Israel Christian Nexus, on why the Beverly Hilton wasn’t the right place for Peres to speak on March 8:
“We could’ve had it at West Angeles Church, which seats 5,000 people instead of 1,200 and it would’ve been full. ... From my perspective, [the organizers] missed a much greater event. We could’ve had 15,000 people if they had chosen a venue that would’ve allowed Christians to participate.”
Shmuel Rosner, senior political editor at the Jewish Journal, and keeper of Rosner’s Domain at Jewishjournal.com, on Peres’s present-day popularity in Israel:
“[Peres] was very smart about gaining the confidence and support of Israelis, [and] didn’t go into areas where there’s a lot of political debate.”
StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein, on Peres’s optimism:
“Henry Kissinger has said about [Peres] that he is sometimes too optimistic. I think that’s a very interesting point. But then, when he does this video where he says, “Be my friend, for peace,” it’s a call for a partner, and I think he understands, and has always understood, that there are people who are bad, who want to get rid of the Jewish state, and through it all he has been able to maintain his optimism. It’s extraordinary. He’s different that way.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, on why the 88-year-old Peres reminds him of UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who died in 2010 at 99 years old:
“Unlike a lot of politicians who don’t live that long, [Peres] has lived that long, and the longer somebody of his repute lives, the larger the legend grows. If John Wooden had died when he was 68 years old, I don’t think he would have been the legend he is today. He actually penetrated the consciousness of people for 35 more years after he retired from coaching. ... I’m 63 years old. At the age of 63, he [Peres] still had at least a quarter-century of public service ahead of him.”
Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Gruel, on what Peres’s visit means for L.A.:
“For Los Angeles, it’s a great opportunity to have a world leader here, to engage us to challenge us to help lead us as we go forward.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, via twitter (@ericgarcetti), March 8:
Shimon Peres is more coherent at 89 than most are at 60. He speaks in Twitter-worthy phrases and has a new hip-hop video. #whoknew #daiyanu
Actress Eva Longoria, via twitter (@EvaLongoria), March 10:
I can’t wait to meet President Peres from Israel tomorrow. Looking forward to learning more about the situation in Israel. #peace
March 14, 2012 | 5:35 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
When Shimon Peres arrived in Los Angeles, many were looking for comments on Iran, and on the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. But what most people really responded to were the thoughts Peres offered on other subjects. Here are a few of the more quotable parts of his speeches. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.
“Science does not have borders. Science cannot be measured, cannot be predicted, you cannot conquer it by armies, you cannot govern it by governments. And if the economy is global science is individual. A single man can change the world by the introduction of science.”
About the Arab World:
“What’s happening in the Arab world, like all other places, is that a new generation was born and they opened their eyes. With the communication of modern technology, they can see what’s happening outside their country, and other places, they compare notes and they say, How come? We don’t have jobs, we don’t have freedom, we don’t have enough food, we don’t have education. It has to change. The problem of the Middle East is poverty more than politics.”
About young people and history:
“Most people prefer to remember, rather than to dream. It’s the greatest mistake. What’s there to remember? About what? Your children wouldn’t like to continue your heritage or my heritage. They say to their parents, ‘Thank you very much, that you gave birth to us and gave us the chance to be alive, but please, don’t impose upon us your past. It’s not so great as you are telling it.’ What is the past? Wounded by wars…”
About old people and the new world:
“The world advanced more than our minds. There’s a new world with many old minds. Since we cannot change the world, we have to change our minds.”
About Mark Zuckerberg:
“I don’t know any theoretician who forecast that one day will come and a boy of 27 years by the name Zuckerberg, who doesn’t have a party, who doesn’t have an army, who doesn’t have a fortune, who has nothing – all of a sudden, changes the world.”
About the need to educate women:
“Egypt was, in 1952, a nation of 18 million. Today, they are 87 million. Nothing grew in Egypt five times—neither the Nile, nor the fields, nor the industry—but poverty. And you can’t save it just by money. The countries have to reform themselves. For example, I believe that if the Arabs don’t liberate their women, they don’t have a future.”
About what makes Israel great:
“My answer is, the moment we discovered that we have nothing in our land, the nothingness made us great, because we have had to turn to the greatest resource of human life, which is the human being. You know, Israel is a very small piece of land, not a very friendly land, a very stingy land. We don’t have water, we have a famous river, the Jordan river, but the Jordan river is richer in history than in water…We have two lakes; one is dead. The other is dying. We don’t have any natural resources. We are surrounded by hostility. I remember the early days, Israel was a doubt, not a country, with many question marks.”
“One of the things about California I like is that special twist, or extension, of democracy. Democracy is not only the right to be equal, but the equal right to be different. It’s a meeting of differences.”
About what it means to be Jewish:
“I say jokingly, what is the greatest contribution of the Jewish people to the rest of the world? My answer is: Dissatisfaction. A good Jew can never be satisfied. The minute he begins to be satisfied he stops being Jewish.”
About the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process:
“I think the process goes on. Like all processes it has problems and [we] make mistakes. It’s not simple. But that’s not a reason to give up the hope. And my hope is that we shall have with the Palestinians a real peace, based on a new reality, and have two states an Arab state of Palestine, a Jewish state of Israel, living side by side, democratically, friendly, science-based.”
About Fidel Castro:
“I think his intentions were fair but the conclusions were disappointing.”
About American Jews:
“Half of the Jewish People live in the United States. The smaller half.”
A message for would-be future leaders:
“Don’t be a leader. Don’t try to be on the top; try to be ahead. Don’t try to rule; try to serve. The people are not short of rulers; the people are short of servants. And if you serve the people, you will have their trust,”
About David Ben-Gurion:
“Ben-Gurion was one thing that I never saw in another leader: He was innocent. Wise, knowledgeable, intellectual – and yet, he didn’t become a cynic. It was like every day remarrying a new idea. And it impressed me very much.”
March 14, 2012 | 1:30 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In a kiss-off op-ed published in today’s New York Times, Greg Smith, now a former executive director at Goldman Sachs, blasted the investment bank for what he called its “toxic and destructive” environment in which “ripping off” clients is commonplace.
And in addition to dropping bombs about managing directors calling their clients “muppets,” Smith also left this bagel lying amid the wreckage:
My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
Yep, it would appear that Smith, the I-banker with a conscience, the Jerry Maguire of Wall Street, is also a Yid. One has to wonder if there’s a rabbi or a teacher or a youth director somewhere in South Africa who’s shepping a little nachas right now. (In all seriousness, if anybody knows how to get in touch with this guy, send info my way.)
March 8, 2012 | 10:55 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In an evening characterized by optimism and not political disagreements, Israeli President Shimon Peres told an audience in Beverly Hills on March 8 that he saw broad agreement between the United States and Israel about what the immediate next steps should be regarding Iran.
“I don’t think anyone would suggest you start by shooting,” Peres told the over 1,000 Jews who gathered at the Beverly Hilton to welcome him on the first day of his four-day trip to Los Angeles.
Peres served three times as Israel’s Prime Minister before taking on the largely ceremonial post of president in 2007, and today he is both elder statesman and head of state. But if media coverage before and after his private meeting with President Obama on March 4 focused on how his message to the American leader might differ from what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be saying, Peres batted away any talk of a gap between the U.S. and Israel when it came to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“While everybody is looking for differences, the basis is common and agreed,” Peres said, noting that there was support around the world for the current regime of sanctions against Iran, and said they should be given time to work.
“If we have to choose, let’s start with the nonviolent, [with] no war beginning, but saying very clearly that all other options are on the table,” Peres said, sounding—at least in those general terms—very much like both Netanyahu and Obama.
For one hour, Peres answered gentle questions from TV reporter and anchor Campbell Brown. In his remarks, the 88-year-old Nobel Laureate painted in broad strokes his hopes for peace with the Palestinians, his optimistic predictions about the future of the Middle East and his vision for the future of the Jewish people in a rapidly changing world.
“The problem of the Middle East is poverty more than politics,” Peres said, noting that while the upheavals in the region over the last year might bring short-term tumult for Israel, the trend would eventually bring the Arab world into alignment with the rest of the world’s countries.
Peres received a very warm welcome from the crowd at the event, which was jointly sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Israeli Consulate, with help from various other groups.
Peres is the highest-profile Israeli official to visit Los Angeles on a standalone trip in at least a decade.
“Not only is he coming, but he’s coming for four days,” said Rabbi Lawrence J. Goldmark, executive vice president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, on Thursday. “We matter. It’s not just the Jews of New York.”
Los Angeles is the last stop for Peres on a nationwide tour. In New York City, he appeared on stage before a large audience for a conversation with Charlie Rose. In Washington, D.C., he met with President Obama and addressed the thousands who attended the American Israel Political Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. And on Wednesday, Peres was in the Bay Area, where he created his own Facebook page at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park. The social media company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was reportedly the first to “Like” the Israeli president’s page.
Story continues after the jump.
In the days leading up to Peres’s meeting with Obama, there was much speculation in the Israeli and U.S. media about what the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work in concluding Oslo Accords would tell the man who was awarded the same prize in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
In Los Angeles, Peres said that on the matter of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he trusted Obama’s assurances.
“I think the President made it clear that he will not compromise on the issue of Iran,” Peres said. “It’s a danger to all of the world, not just to Israel.”
The crowd on Thursday night included leaders of organizations spanning across the political and denominational spectrum, as well as many political dignitaries.
The evening’s edgiest moments came courtesy of Jason Alexander, who served as master of ceremonies. The actor cracked jokes about the security around the event, made a few crude gestures at the audience in a bit about Prime Minister Netanyahu and mocked his own hairpiece.
Otherwise, those who introduced the Israeli president, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Israeli Consul General David Siegel, made it clear that the evening would not feature any hard-hitting questions or controversial statements.
“We are here tonight as one people, united in our support, of you Mr. President and of the State of Israel,” said Federation Chairman Richard Sandler.
So when Brown asked Peres what it meant for Americans to be “pro-Israel,” the Israeli president offered a comment about how the United States and Israel were both “promised lands.”
He did make a gentle dig at the audience, though.
“Half the Jewish people live in the United States,” he said.
“The smaller half,” he added, with a smile.
Peres’s itinerary in Los Angeles includes a visit to the DreamWorks Animation studio on Friday and a Sunday morning breakfast with Jewish and Latino leaders.
March 2, 2012 | 12:15 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
“We must be patient and realistic in our expectation regarding the Middle East,” Sen. George Mitchell told an audience at the University of California, Los Angeles, on March 1.
Mitchell delivered this year’s Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace, and he struck a tone that was appropriately—but not overwhelmingly—pessimistic about the dim prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
The architect of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that paved the way for an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, Mitchell spent two and a half years as President Obama’s Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, starting in 2009, trying and ultimately failing to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a similar breakthrough in their halted peace negotiations.
While he acknowledged on Thursday evening that there were “many reasons to be skeptical” about the possibility of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis—first and foremost among them, the uncertainty that has been brewing in the Arab world since the revolutions that deposed the dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011—Mitchell also presented an outline for what he believes has to happen in order to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
It’s familiar stuff. What needs to happen in the Middle East, Mitchell said, is akin to what happened in Northern Ireland. There, courageous political leaders “made principled compromises that put at risk their careers, their lives and the safety of their families.”
In the case of the Israelis and Palestinians, compromises must be made in order to achieve what the Palestinians’ goal—“a viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps”—and the Israeli goal—“a Jewish state, with secure, recognized, and defensible borders.”
Those overarching goals, Mitchell said, are the very same ones mentioned by President George W. Bush in a 2009 speech he delivered in Jerusalem, just before leaving office. Mitchell quoted from the speech at length on Thursday:
The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent. It is vital that each side understands that satisfying the other’s fundamental objectives is key to a successful agreement. Security for Israel and viability for the Palestinian state are in the mutual interests of both parties.
Mitchell’s speech was diplomatic—that’s to be expected—but it was also very clear-minded. After his talk, NPR host Renee Montagne asked Mitchell a few questions, including one about whether he had difficulty with Israelis who thought that he might be biased against them because he (a) called, in 2001, for an end to construction of Israeli settlements, and (b) is the son of a woman who emigrated to the United States from Lebanon.
Mitchell first politely dismissed the idea of hyphenate Americans (“I have never felt or been anything other than an American”) and then pointed out that when it came to Israeli settlement construction, “the position [he] took was actually consistent with the view of every American government that has ever expressed a position on the subject.”
Mitchell’s opening—a long description of how he came to be a senator and what happened when he first got there—was hilarious. And though the words on the page aren’t quite the same, through a bit of googling, I found the text of a similar speech by Mitchell that he delivered in January in Washington, D.C. It’s worth reading.